Journal Article

Appearance and Revelation: Benjamin, Derrida and the Institution of Knowledge

Graham MacPhee

in Literature and Theology

Volume 17, issue 4, pages 435-456
Published in print December 2003 | ISSN: 0269-1205
Published online December 2003 | e-ISSN: 1477-4623 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/litthe/17.4.435
Appearance and Revelation: Benjamin, Derrida and the Institution of Knowledge

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The article explores the question of orientation for deconstruction through a comparison of Derrida's reading of the Kantian university and Benjamin's rearticulation of knowledge through the work of art. A framework for this analysis is provided by the historical shift from revelation to appearance that marks the emergence of scientific knowledge in opposition to theological conceptions of truth. This framework allows Kant's conception of knowledge to be situated in relation to traditional centres of authority and the new transnational networks of publicity emerging in Europe. The essay argues that Derrida's reading of Kant's Conflict of the Faculties involves a significant equivocation. Benjamin's account of the historicity of the artwork is seen both to anticipate aspects of Derrida's reading, and to offer a framework for assessing Derrida's retrospective construction of Kant.

Reading [Kant] today, I perceive his assurance and his necessity much as one might admire the rigour of a plan or structure through the breaches of an uninhabitable edifice, unable to decide whether it is in ruins or simply never existed, having only ever been able to shelter the discourse of its non-accomplishment. This is the uncertainty with which I read Kant …

Jacques Derrida, ‘Mochlos; or, the Conflict of the Faculties’ (1980)

Ruins jutting into the sky can appear doubly beautiful on clear days when, in their windows or above their contours, the gaze meets passing clouds. Through the transient spectacle it opens in the sky, destruction reaffirms the eternity of these ruins.

Walter Benjamin, One Way Street (1928)

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Subjects: Literature ; Religion and Art, Literature, and Music

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